ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday finally broke its silence on the delimitation controversy, laying the blame for the delay on the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi has asked the ECP to propose dates for holding general elections under Article 224(2) of the Constitution.

The development comes days after National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri threw out a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, the dissolution of the lower house of the parliament by President Alvi and following remarks by a senior ECP official that general elections were not possible within three months due to legal and operational constrains.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing the matter to adjudicate upon the legality of the deputy speaker’s ruling and the subsequent actions and orders of the prime minister and the president.

Says it has capability to hold elections as per law, Constitution; president seeks dates from ECP for conducting polls

The letter from the president’s secretariat to the ECP stated that under Article 48(5)(A) and Article 224(2) of the Constitution, the president had to fix a date, not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution of the National Assembly, for holding general elections.

“In order to carry out the mandate of the Constitution of announcing the date for general elections, consultation with the Election Commission is required under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act, 2017,” the letter said.

On the other hand, the ECP, in a statement, said it was alive to its legal and constitutional obligations and had the capability to hold general elections as per the law and Constitution.

Reacting to scathing criticism by former cabinet members Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry and Farrukh Habib, the commission said it had been meeting all its constitutional obligations.

The ECP said while it was committed to fulfilling its legal duties, other institutions and personalities should also timely meet their legal and constitutional obligations.

It pointed out that the number of National Assembly constituencies had reduced to 266 from 272 after merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and reduction of seats in tribal areas from 12 to six.

The ECP said it had warranted fresh delimitation, which was not possible in the absence of official census results. It said the chief election commissioner had written a letter to Imran Khan on May 7, 2020 inviting his attention to the issue and seeking his intervention to get the official results notified.

The commission said letters had also been written to other relevant quarters including the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs as well as secretaries of the Senate, National Assembly and the Bureau of Statistics.

The ECP further said reminders had been sent to them, pointing out that delimitation of constituencies was the constitutional responsibility of the commission, but it could not proceed until the final census results were officially notified.

The process of delimitation finally started when the official census results were notified on May 7, 2021, but it was stopped after the government announced that it would go for fresh digital census, the ECP said, adding that the commission had also written letters to the government on Dec 30, 2021 and January 21, 2022, urging it to expedite the census process, which it did not do.

The ECP also advised PTI leaders to refrain from levelling unnecessary allegations against it.

Meanwhile, ECP sources said the letter, which had asked the commission to propose election dates, would be responded to after the Supreme Court’s judgement on the legality of the deputy speaker’s ruling and subsequent action.

Stressing that ground realities will have to be kept in view while setting a poll date, a source pointed out that under section 17(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP was responsible to delimit territorial constituencies for elections to the National Assembly, each provincial assembly and local governments in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Act, the rules and the applicable local government law.

Section 17(2) of the Act reads, “the commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

He also referred to section 21 of the Elections Act which reads,

(1) For the purpose of delimiting constituencies, the Commission may receive and consider representations, hold inquiries, summon witnesses and record evidence, and shall prepare and publish in the official Gazette a preliminary report and list of constituencies specifying the areas proposed to be included in each constituency.

(2) The Commission shall invite representations in respect of the preliminary report within a period of thirty days from the date of publication.

(3) A voter in a constituency may, within the period specified in sub-section (2), make a representation to the Commission in respect of the delimitation of that constituency proposed in the preliminary report.

(4) The Commission shall, after hearing and considering the representations, if any, received by it, make such amendments, alterations or modifications in the preliminary list of constituencies published under sub-section (1) as it thinks fit or necessary, and shall, within a period of thirty days from the last date fixed for making representation under sub-section (2), publish in the official Gazette and on its website, the final report and list of constituencies showing the areas included in each constituency.

The source said a deviation from the timelines provided in the law would amount to compromising on the quality of elections.

He pointed out that the cut-off date for completion of electoral process would be July 1, adding that according to a judgement of the apex court, elections mean the process starting from inviting nominations and concluding with the notification of returned candidates.

“That means the poll day should be somewhere between second and third week of June, which would not be possible even by squeezing timelines for delimitation,” he added.

The source, however, said the ECP was actively working on discharging its duties, and had already written letters to all the four provincial election commissioners, drawing their attention towards the situation arising out of the dissolution of the National Assembly by the president.

It said under Article 224(4), it was the legal obligation of the Election Commission to conduct elections within 60 days if the Assembly completed its term and 90 days in case of dissolution of assembly prior to completion of its term.

“In view of the current situation it is requested that…updated and duly authenticated maps may immediately be obtained from the provincial government,” the identical letters read.

The provincial election commissioners have also been asked to get authenticated lists of administrative units.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2022

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